Hosting Online Workouts Part 6: Custom Fitness App

Connected Fitness

Custom apps are expensive to build, but even in the most custom cases, the components being used and the backend services are likely to be the same as the ones discussed in this series of blog articles.  A challenge for truly custom created fitness apps is that they tend to focus on video on demand libraries with some meal plans etc - enabling interactive live workouts is hard, integrating with fitness wearables is harder.

As Apple Fitness+ and Peloton Digital  continue to raise the bar for online fitness experiences, the level of engineering investment needed to match users' expectations will continue to grow.

Note that the pricing below is from custom development companies trying to convince you to spend this much in a contract with them, not existing software vendors trying to convince you not to build a custom app:

  • Plankk:  Plankk has several offerings, a Plankk Studio that is a regular app with various fitness influencers doing classes on a subscription basis, and then custom apps for fitness influencers with larger followings.  The custom apps are white labeled to the fitness influencer, but the customization goes a little deeper than white labeling, where the fitness influencer works with a Plankk user experience designer to change up the interface.  This is based on follower size, so if you don’t have over 1M followers on Instagram, the custom apps piece is not for you (right now they have 70 fitness influencer apps).  The in app experience is on demand videos and video clips.  They create the app “for free” then participate in the subscription revenue.
  • Loup:  More of a development agency but focused on fitness apps for fitness influencers and celebrities.  They are actually the team behind the Centr app and content by Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and also Skye FIT by Emily Skye.  Commercial terms aren’t disclosed on the website, but they tend to approach celebrities and fitness influencers that they want to work with.
  • IPStudio:  Really a small web development shop, they have focused on fitness development work including several studios that I know personally.  When doing live and on-demand video in these sites, they have embedded other components like links to Zoom or embedded Vimeo video streams in the web pages.  They seem to have not done mobile apps but focused more on web, and have done gym management integration as custom projects - e.g. Mariana Tek.
  • SweatWorks:  A real custom development shop, they have worked with some of the top brand names in fitness, like SoulCycle and CityRow, etc.  The cost to build a custom fitness app with a consulting firm like SweatWorks is going to be in six figures, or above. SweatWorks does have a global hybrid onshore/offshore team, and they are very experienced at fitness apps with a lot of knowledge in the space.  The challenge is the price tag - for the fancier features of a fitness app experience, reinventing that wheel is going to cost seven figures (USD) and probably a similar amount per year to maintain.  It's just the function of custom building everything versus using a platform that does the heavy lift.  In the future, SweatWorks would be a great potential implementation partner for platform companies like Tribe.
  •  Builder is kind of a hybrid of a set of code libraries and a custom development team - most of their headcount is in India.  You can select a set of functionality from an a la carte menu, and then they’ll build you an app like that - in fact you can even select from well known apps as templates or inspiration for functionality.  I just ran through the functionality and pricing wizard and it gave me a delivery time of 50 weeks and $42K.  I actually worked in a previous company with ClickLabs that followed a similar model for custom development of marketplaces, but found that in reality there was a lot more custom coding going on than the value added from the existing libraries, but I can’t speak to Builder.
  • Cleveroad:  They are a custom development shop with offices in the US and Ukraine (where coding happens).  From their website: “According to our estimations, the workout app development cost varies from $60,000 to $91,850. The final price depends on the number of platforms you’re developing the app, complexity of features, post-release support, and more. It’s hard to estimate your project's exact price without knowing the exact requirements, so consider them before contacting your vendor.”  This is the hard part - you can build something basic in that price range, but if you want wearable integration, gym management integration, interactive video experiences, the costs start to go up  - because you are really just buying developer time.
  • Quytech:  A software development shop in India, in this answer on a third party site they give a cost estimation for developing custom apps for health and fitness at $10K to $100K - again a very broad range, and essentially a guess based on their hourly rates.
  • Prismetric:  Another coding company in India, they estimate $16K to $30K for a simple scheduling / classes app, and $85K to 130K for a more fully featured fitness app.
  • MLSDev:  Another custom development company, they have a nice article on building a custom fitness app that has the basic answer at $60K+ and 3 months development time, then a more advanced app at $230K+ and 9+ months development time.  Even the more advanced option here would likely not include fitness wearable integration.
  • MindStudios:  Based in Ukraine, MindStudios indicates in their blog article that they did some work for Xiaomi on the Android app for their Mi Band wearable device.  Their estimate is $83K to $198K for both the iOS and Android apps for a custom fitness app doing basic wearable tracking.

The summary then is that a basic custom app with videos etc is going to set you back $50K+, and building a prototype (MVP) of anything close to Apple Fitness or Peloton Digital is going to cost much more - likely at least $250K (and a year).  It also takes a long time and is laced with risk (if you get a buggy end product, what do you do?).  Most custom development shops have not built anything of the complexity of the platforms you are competing with, because the more advanced fitness apps tend to get built with in-house teams rather than outsourced development consultancies.  This means their estimates are likely to be on the low side, as everyone in tech knows that it always takes longer and costs more than whatever you estimated up front - this is a general rule in all software startups.

If you are Equinox with Variis or a digital pure play like Mirror then sure you take the custom coding path, but you expect to spend $M on software development - almost all of it on people.  An onshore development team of 20 people for a year is going to cost something like $4M at today’s salary costs, an offshore development team of the same size and time period is likely $1.2M.

This rings true for us at Tribe - we have spent about 20 engineering years on our product so far, and will likely spend double that over the next 12 months.  That kind of price tag is out of reach of almost all fitness influencers and boutique chains, so either you work with an existing white labeled app provider or you risk custom building something simplistic constrained by your budget.  Unfortunately, simplistic video on demand libraries struggle to compete with all the free content on YouTube.

So if you looking for your own e-fitness app, lease a Mercedes from Tribe, don’t reinvent the Model T ;)

Justin Marston

Thinker, writer, innovator, runner, Star Wars fan

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